From A to B: Data Transfer 123

Everything you need to know to move all your files from one computer to another--so you don't lose precious photos, Grandma's best recipes, favorite jams and all the other important items you keep on your PC.

Sometimes, getting a file from one machine to another can seem as easy as using carrier pigeons to pay your bills. Sure, the necessary documents might arrive on time and on target, but is it really worth the hassle?

Our answer: For bills, no. But for data, absolutely. (And no pigeons are involved.)

Knowing how to do data transfer allows you to back up important files (from photos and music to work documents) so that you have copies in case of computer failure or theft. The two main choices for data transfer are external drives and online backup. Each has pros and cons.

  • External Drives (e.g., small flash drives and larger hard disk drives): Advantages include a large amount of storage space, affordability, portability and quick access to data. But they can also get lost or stolen, be affected by high humidity or flooding, and sometimes need software updates.
  • Online Backup: Advantages include no risk of theft of a physical device, working “in the background” to save new documents as they’re created, tech support availability and access to data from anywhere you have an Internet connection. Disadvantages include the inability to access data if your Internet connection is down and higher pricing for some services.

Think about what’s most important to you, in terms of access. Do you need data in a format where you can slip it in your pocket via a flash drive, or is it better to be able to get your data from any computer, anywhere in the world?

Preparing Files for Transfer

When getting files ready, take a look at what you really need to save. Not every document is a keeper, and cleaning out your files will reduce the amount of time and effort spent in backup.

Also, for some online services, you can create an automatic backup system that pulls documents from only one folder on your hard drive. So, you may want to create a folder called “current work” or “save” to make it easier to know what’s getting backed up.

Making the Transfer

Fortunately, when it comes to data transfer, technology is our friend. Online services and most external devices have setup functions that are easy to navigate. Just follow the steps they provide for saving files, and you should be good.

For external drives that don’t have clear instructions, you can usually click on a document and “slide” it to the device icon, similar to physically putting a piece of paper in a drawer.

Checking Your Work

Once you’ve transferred your files, it’s important to make sure they’re stored properly. So take a minute to run a “fire drill” recovery. For example, pretend your favorite photos were destroyed on your hard drive and attempt to retrieve them from your service or external drive. If they come through fine, you know your strategy is working.

Data transfer and backup are often put off, and many people regard them as just another chore on a long to-do list. But making backup a priority will prevent loss in the future — and give you welcome peace of mind.

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